Monthly Archives: July 2020

God in a Box

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year II)

Matthew 13:54-58

Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not his sisters all with us? Where did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.”

The people in Jesus’ hometown had him figured out, or so they thought. Elders saw him grow up from childhood; peers knew him as the carpenter’s son. Yeshua was an ordinary young man with no rabbinic training. His parents and relatives were also ordinary townspeople. What was Yeshua doing in the synagogue—teaching his neighbors and behaving like a man of authority? The spectacle was “offensive” and provoked disgust.

Jesus’ hometown suffered from spiritual cataracts. They assumed that their small world and the people around them had no more depth than what they had observed day after day, year after year. Their affliction was not peculiar to them. Overfamiliarity afflicts all of us and obstructs vision. 

If we open the eyes of our heart, every person we encounter, whether at home or in the streets, shines with the splendor of the Triune image stamped within. If we look in our yard, the dullest rocks are as dazzling as gold; both proceed from the same breath. (Mineral value is also not intrinsic but assigned.) The hobo and the king have the same “weight of glory” in the divine scales.

The Son of God took the risk of being mistaken for worthless dust when he assumed that dust as his earthly form. Only once did he allow mortal eyes to behold the blazing glory of his hidden person—at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Earth was not to be won over without an awakening from within, with a minimal show of power and might. 

Yet miracles and wonders were not lacking in the divine courtship. Compassion drew out his healing power even to those who sought him in hiding (e.g., the woman who touched his tassel). 

“According to your faith let it be done to you,” Jesus said to the blind men in another town (Matthew 9:29). Here in his own town, the brook of faith was dry and parched, dammed by familiarity and contempt. 

And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.

-GMC

The Net

Chinese painting of the Nativity of Christ. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Matthew 13:47-53

The net in the Gospel parable caught fish of every kind, just like the net after Jesus’ resurrection:

“So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn” (John 21:11).

In Christ the Eternal Tao, a book exploring the insights of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (founder of Taoism) and Christianity, Hieromonk Damascene wrote eighty-one poems mirroring the eighty-one poems of the Tao Te Ching. Each poem reveals the compenetrating insights of Christian revelation and the pre-Christian philosophy of Lao Tzu. Poem 22 speaks of the post-Resurrection net and shows the marvelous power of grace to transform persons.

Chapter 22 of Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene

He was condemned as a friend of harlots
And the harlots became virgins.
He was condemned as a friend of thieves
And the thieves restored their stolen goods fourfold.
He was condemned as a friend of poor fishermen
And the poor fishermen caught the universe in their nets.
He was condemned as a friend of outcasts
And the outcasts inherited His Kingdom.

He was condemned, and they were created anew.
He wept over what His creation had made of itself,
And by His tears was it remade,
Restored to its true nature, its primitive origin.
The first creation was of the dust of the ground;
The second, of Water and Spirit.

Lao Tzu had a profound intuition of the merciful and transforming character of the Tao (the word used to translate Logos in St. John’s Prologue). Tao manifested in the world is called Teh, or Grace—the Light seen by Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Lao Tzu intuited the nurturing character of the Absolute when he described it as “the mother of the ten thousand things,” meaning everything that exists (Tao Te Ching, chapter 1). 

The parable of the net warns us to be watchful that we may be caught in the mesh of grace. The net that “caught the universe” motivates us to pray that none may slip through.

“Vast is Heaven’s net;
Sparse-meshed it is, and yet
Nothing can slip through it.”

(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translated by John C. H. Wu)

Lao Tzu joins Plato, Aristotle and other pre-Christian philosophers who were led by the Holy Spirit to glimpse the mystery behind visible phenomena by meditation and insight. They belong to the great journey of humanity in its return to the Trinity. 

-GMC

What is harmony? (Part 2)

“Is the Trinity like a musical harmony? (part 2)”
©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang

In a tonal song, all of the tones relate to a single key. Relativity of tones is at the heart of tonal music. Relativity is built into finitude itself, as form and limit give rise to systems of interrelatedness. Congruence of interrelated elements is perceived as harmony. 

The Trinity, however, infinitely transcends form, limit, and systems of relations. Systems revolve around a single principle which organizes disparate elements into a coherent whole. The elements interrelate as parts of a whole. But the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not parts; each person is God indivisibly. The Trinity has no “home key.” Persons, by virtue of their absolute diversity, cannot be systematized. Nothing “holds them together” as parts. Persons are “wholes” for lack of a better term; “part” and “whole” fall short as concepts as they are relative and give rise to one another.

Absolute identity (monad) and absolute diversity (triad) are simultaneous, neither having priority over the other—an indivisible circumincession of persons (“wholes”) without parts. The Three One transcends interdependence, interrelations, and relativity, all of which belong to the spatiotemporal domain of parts outside parts.

Since harmony is such a beloved concept, however, we may perhaps say that Trinitarian Love is an ineffable harmony beyond harmony

Martha Revisited

We listen to scholars who study the bible. How about artists too? Here’s  the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, looking into Luke’s gospel about  Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist adds some delightful details of his own to Luke’s account. He’s let his imagination roam. The table’s set for four people. That would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

But, who are those others coming in the door?  Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One of them gestures towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands, “What are we going to do?”

There will be no miracle, except the miracle of Martha’s hospitality.

More than four are going to be fed.

We need to read the gospels like this too.

Almighty ever-living God, your Son was welcomed in Martha’s house as a guest, grant, we pray, that through her intercession, serving Christ faithfully in our brothers and sisters, we may be received by you in the halls of heaven.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The Parable of the Weeds

Parable of the Tares. From Christ’s Object Lessons by Ellen Gould Harmon White, page 73. 

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

Matthew 13:36-43

Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom. The weeds are the children of the Evil One, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

If we look at the parable of the weeds through a metaphysical lens, the Sower and the field are both the Son of Man, as the entire cosmos was assumed by the Person of the Word in the Incarnation. Both disciples and dissenters, saints and sinners find their origin in Adam. Seeds and weeds alike grow freely in the soil (Body) assumed by Christ. 

There is no equal and opposite existence to rival the Uncreated Son. A rebel spirit exists through the Son but has freely chosen to withdraw its “I” from communion and sever its will from the Father. How free will can be both created and undetermined is an unfathomable mystery.

The rejection of divine love for the allure of shining alone ends in the furnace of ego-isolation, unable to glory in the union and communion of the heterogeneous splendor of unique and unrepeatable persons. Glory is neither self-centered nor other-centered, but One Many beyond logical, linguistic, musical, or geometrical “co-ordination.”

Weeds burn alone in the fire of their pride. “Hell” has no separate existence.

Matthew allegorized the parable for a primitive Church struggling with the newness of Christ in the midst of an unyielding Jewish tradition. They sought explanations for why some accepted and others rejected Christ. Matthew applied an almost one-to-one correspondence between symbols and their referents in his desire for clarity. Based on linguistic analysis, Joachim Jeremias wrote: “it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the interpretation of the parable of the Tares is the work of Matthew himself.”1

Parables are not designed to provide clear-cut perspicacity. Lucidity concerning hidden mysteries is neither possible nor necessary for the journey. We can draw from parables of the kingdom that it is something worth searching for with all one’s heart, and that it is worth detaching from all earthly goods in order to attain it. What exactly that pearl of great price is, concepts cannot capture, but parables tell us it is worth more than our life, as demonstrated by Christ on the Cross.

As the Kingdom grows from a tiny seed and with it Christian consciousness, the mystery unfolds over the centuries as spirituality develops in every corner of the world. Saints envision the unseen world in a multitude of ways. The “wailing and grinding of teeth” in Matthew, for example, was conceived as the torment of divine love in the 7th century vision of St. Isaac the Syrian:

“Those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret.”2

St. Isaac’s theology envelops our prayer and action in the merciful love of the Trinity. Instead of speculating on who the wheat and weeds are (an impossibility), we pray and work to bring all into the harvest (leaving judgment to God). Evil viewed in the light of divine love enkindles pity rather than condemnation. 

St. Isaac’s vision crucifies the heart and reflects the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Speculative and practical theology meet as one in the Heart of the Trinity.

-GMC

1 Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972, pp. 84-85, referenced by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series,Volume 1, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 206.

2 Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, 2nd ed., Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011, 141-142.

A Microscopic Kingdom

Parable of the Mustard Seed. Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Matthew 13:31-35 

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”

The Kingdom of heaven has small beginnings, like a mustard seed; in fact, smaller than a mustard seed—a microscopic cell in a mother’s womb!

Infinity has an affinity for the little and the weak, the underdog among the kings and rulers of the world. The sensible eye measures greatness by size and quantity, but divine energy is indifferent to circumscribed shapes and forms. In the Eye of Infinity, a mustard seed is a cosmos and a galaxy an ant. 

In the divine stratagem of the Three One Council, a heavenly seed was planted in Mother Earth through a lowly Virgin Mother. From this seed rooted in creation’s soil, a new theandric organism began to grow and grow toward the Triune Sun.

He  spoke to them another parable. “The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” 

Earthly clay received the leaven of divine grace and energy to transform darkness into light, and stony hardness into supple life. Through the Incarnate Logos, the cosmos was overshadowed by the Spirit, transforming the whole batch one person at a time. 

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.

From our earthly frame of reference, a mustard seed and yeast are small in comparison to the full-grown bush and expanded dough they yield. Relative comparisons give us perspective to appreciate the power of humble, hidden grace. 

Yet grace is immeasurable, boundless and indivisible. Clocks and rulers cannot measure its speed or length. Infinity has no frame of reference and therefore no measures. Heaven expands from a zygote.

-GMC